With almost a quarter of children clinically obese, people in deprived areas dying nine years earlier than those in prosperous areas and sexually transmitted infections almost double the national average, Croydon has a lot of challenges, new health figures reveal.
Progress is being made, but the man tasked with improving the borough’s health says “there’s a lot more to do”.
A big priority of the director of public health, Dr Mike Robinson, is obesity – latest statistics from Public Health England show 22.3 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds in year 6 are clinically obese.
Dr Robinson said: “There is a serious problem in Croydon; in fact the problem in Croydon is very similar to that in other London boroughs, we are not unique.
“There is a personal responsibility involved, but what we want to do in Croydon is to make the healthy choices easier.”
The figure is better than previous years, but worse than the national average, and comes as the Mayor of London announced Croydon as a Food Borough, a scheme to encourage people to eat healthily and grow their own food.
As a flagship, Croydon will receive support from the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) food, health, education and sport teams, along with the Mayor’s Fund for London.
The council will receive £600,000 in funding from the Department for Education and GLA over the next two years to help achieve this.
Part of Croydon Council’s plan to make healthy choices easier is to get takeaways to sign up to an Eat Well scheme where they will be encouraged to offer healthy options.
The council is sending letters to businesses asking them to join, before it starts in September.
Dr Robinson said: “We already work to make sure the businesses are safe and we want to go one further and we want to encourage businesses to give people healthy choices.”
The rate of teenage pregnancy in Croydon is higher than the national average, with 28.6 per 1,000 girls between 15 and 17 getting pregnant in the borough, compared to 27.7 nationally.
This figure is gradually declining and Dr Robinson describes the latest results as “a good news story”.
He said: “We have carefully designed contraception services and specific help for teen mums.
“Some teenage pregnancies are planned and I would not want anyone to think we are trying to see it go down and down and down, but we believe there is still room for further improvement.”
Part of the council’s strategy is better education and better access to contraception.
Health teams go into secondary schools for sex education sessions, which run for an hour a week for about eight weeks.
There is a 9.1 year gap in the life expectancy between men living in the poorest parts of the borough and the richest. The gap is 7.7 years for women.
While the gap for men has decreased, the gap for women has increased.
Dr Robinson said: “The reasons are complex. People who live in a more deprived area have some health disadvantages. About a third of the inequality can be explained by the fact that in better off communities a lot more people have given up smoking.
“It’s not that people aren’t trying to give up smoking, but their lives are complex and it’s not an easy thing to kick.
“A large part of it is to do with poverty.
“We are working with people, starting with schools, to make sure they feel in control of their health, they eat well and they take regular exercise.”
Dr Robinson said inequality will be looked at by the fairness commission, which was set up at the start of the month.
Its task will be to produce a report with recommendations about how to reduce inequality and poverty in the borough.
Sexually transmitted infections
The rate of STIs in Croydon is almost double the national average, but Dr Robinson said people should not be too alarmed.
He said: “The figures are higher than the national average but they are not any higher than elsewhere in London.
“What we are doing, to some extent, is good as when you recognise an STI you can treat the person and ask them who their sexual partners are and invite these people in to make sure they are not infected.”
A plan to reduce the rate of infections is to make sure people can get treated easily, including developing a mobile phone app so people can find details of services.
Dr Robinson said: “We are going to look at a new service that is much more community based and we will be looking to have a service through the community.
“We will be looking to see where we can develop and improve the access to make it as easy as possible and make sure the service is targeted at the people we want to target.
“There’s quite a lot of work to do.”